Am I | Shaun Parker & CompanyPhoto – Michele Aboud

Encompassing everything from the sub atomic matter that constitutes our physical being, to the relationships that give our lives meaning, Am I is an ambitious exploration of what it is to be human.

Choreographer Shaun Parker is a major figure in the Australian contemporary dance landscape. His previous works have won numerous awards and played at festivals around the world. When I interviewed him in 2007, he had just received the Robert Helpmann Scholarship, to investigate the relationship between live singing, music and dance, and in his latest work, Am I, he continues that exploration, utilising all three.

The 80-minute work draws on a wide range of theatrical, dance and musical styles to create an expansive, multi-layered performance. Acclaimed Indian performer Shantala Shivalingappa, opens with the words ‘Once upon a time…’, establishing the mythic dimension of the show. Acting as a sort of narrator or spiritual guide, she remains onstage throughout, observing and interacting with the dancers, and occasionally addressing the audience with questions of science and religion, sex and morality, time and life.

The choreography employs a range of styles from traditional to tribal to contemporary. At times, it employs a frenetic pace and the youthful company work themselves seemingly to exhaustion just to keep up. At other times it takes on a more reflective mood, adopting a more repetitive and hypnotic motion.

The set design (Damien Cooper and Shaun Parker) is uncluttered, and the stage is left bare save for the black curtains and a wall of lights upstage. The light wall variously glows and pulses throughout, providing texture and mood, and occasionally emits a blast of blinding white light, from which it is impossible not to turn away. Costumes (Anna Tregloan) too, are kept deliberately simple, with each performer dressed in comfortable black.

The original score (Nick Wales) performed live, is truly outstanding, combining world musical styles to complement the timeless, cosmic and mythical terrain of the text. At times, the music is used to punctuate the mechanical/digital movement of the dancers, while at other times, the relentless beat drives the dancers into a tribal frenzy.

For the most part I enjoyed this work, although at times I did find myself concentrating on the musicians rather than the dancers. While there are definitely moments of humour, Am I is a rather sombre work, accentuated by the largely neutral demeanour of the performers, and might benefit from a little more light and shade in places. The energy of the dancers is exceptional and they generally do a fine job across a wide range of styles, however at times they lacked precision, and the use of metal rods in the choreography occasionally looked messy.

Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable, ambitious work from one of the country’s most interesting choreographers. The live music is superb – well worth the price of admission on its own.

Melbourne Festival presents
Shaun Parker & Company

Choreography Shaun Parker
Music Nick Wales

Venue: The Coopers Malthouse | Merlyn Theatre
Dates: 23 – 26 Oct, 2014
Tickets: $79 – $25
Bookings: 03 9685 5111 | Ticketmaster 136 100

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